Silva Neves

Silva Neves
Psychosexual, Relationship and Couples Therapist

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The global trauma of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris

The global trauma of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris

After Friday 13th November, we are all traumatised. It is a global trauma, because the world has suddenly changed and it won’t be the same again.

Surviving a terrorist attack is traumatic. Knowing someone who has died in a terrorist attack is traumatic. Witnessing it is also traumatic. The Paris attacks have been so significant that the world is a witness to this traumatic event. The news is reporting traumatic stories and showing pictures of the attacks on the loop. Now it is all about the next terror, which city is going to be hit next. London is one of the targets, we are told. We see pictures of victims. We see pictures of perpetrators. We are on high alert. We are traumatised.

What do we typically do when we are traumatised as a witness of trauma? We become sad, sometimes depressed. We become angry. We want to fight. We blame. We become jumpy and suspicious. Unfortunately, some people stay in this state for a long time.

It is important that we take our own responsibility to look after ourselves. This may mean to limit the amount of time we spend watching the news or our Facebook newsfeed. It may mean that it is an opportunity to turn to our loved ones and express our gratitude to have them in our life. It may mean to open our arms rather than clutching our fists.

It reminds me of one of Peter Levine’s theories on war:
Even when competing with their most basic resources- food and territory – animals typically do not kill members of their own species. Why do we? (…) Trauma is among the most important root causes for the form modern warfare has taken. The perpetuation, escalation, and violence of war can be attributed in part to post-traumatic stress. Our past encounters with another have generated a legacy of war, separation, prejudice and hostility. This legacy is a legacy of trauma fundamentally no different from that experienced by individuals – except in its scale. Traumatic re-enactment is one of the strongest and most enduring reactions that occurs in the wake of trauma. (…) When we are traumatised by war, the implications are staggering. (…) There is no avoiding the traumatic aftermath of war; it reaches into every segment of a society.’ (1997, page 225-227).

What Peter Levine is saying is that the terrorist attacks in Paris, an act of War, violence and hatred, traumatised the individuals involved, and traumatised all of us around the globe. As a result, we are more prone to re-enact this and continue to fight. When I think of what happened in Paris, my first reaction is to clutch my fists and not open my arms. But, after a while, I decided to open. I made a Facebook statement that I will offer free trauma therapy to anyone who has been affected by the recent events in Paris. This was one of my ways to open my arms. I invite each and every one of you to do one thing to open your arms. You do not have to forgive terrorists. You do not have to stop being angry or sad or disgusted by what happened. But you can turn to a loved one - your partner, your child, your friend, your neighbour, your mother, your parents-in-law, your community - and give them a hug, and tell them you love them. It is a small gesture that goes a long way in healing the global trauma that we have all suffered after the Paris attacks.

Those that have survived the terrorist attacks can experience symptoms of PTS (Post-Traumatic Stress) or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

The symptoms for PTS are:
1-      Re-experiencing the traumatic event in a range of sensory forms. This phenomenon is called a flashback.

2-      Avoiding reminders of the trauma by avoiding or numbing emotions. In some cases, we call it dissociation.

3-      Chronic hyperarousal of the nervous system. This is called disregulated arousal.

It is important to note that these symptoms are normal to experience immediately after traumatic event. If some of these symptoms persist one month after the traumatic event, a diagnosis of PTS can be formulated.
It is also important to remember that not everybody who has survived a traumatic event will develop PTS. Some people never do. 

When the symptoms of PTS are chronic, they can lead to psychological disturbances such as:

1-      Acute anxiety and panic attacks.

2-      Sleep disturbances.

3-      Loss of appetite.

4-      Sexual dysfunctions.

5-      Difficulties with concentration.

6-      Difficulties with relationships.

PTSD is a specific psychological condition. It manifests with the same symptoms as PTS but it is more severe causing a high level of daily dysfunction.

If you or someone you know suffer from the above symptoms, it is important to know that there is help available. Both PTS and PTSD can be treated with specific psychological trauma therapy.

I wish you all well.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The discovery of infidelity

The discovery of infidelity

Discovering that your partner has been unfaithful is always distressing. Most often, it is more than distressing, it is traumatizing.
We call it a relational trauma: It is a trauma particularly inflicted on one person by another, and is characterized by a “violation of human connection.” (Herman, 1992). 
Relational trauma occurs when one person betrays, abandons, or refuses to provide support for another person with whom he or she has developed an attachment bond.

If you have recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, it is likely that you might suffer a trauma after the initial shock of the discovery.

The discovery can have a varying degree of traumatization. It depends on a number of factors:

1-    How the discovery was made. Was it a friend telling. Or finding out through texts or e-mails on electronic devices. Or walking on the act. All of these will have varying degree of intensity and varying degree of traumatizing effects.

2-    The drip by drip effect: what is often more traumatizing is not to make the discovery at once. It is common that after an initial discovery, the unfaithful partner will confess of their infidelity and ask for pardon, but he will not confess all. Only when you think you can start to recover, that another disclosure surfaces. And then another. These compound on the trauma.

3-    Breach of trust: if the partner was never suspicious and thought they were in a good marriage, it can be devastating. Even if there were doubts and the relationship was rocky, it is distressing. The breach of trust is traumatizing because it is the foundation of feeling safe. Not feeling safe is distressing.

4-    Sexual wound: if the betrayed partner was exposed to some sexual acts that their spouse were doing with someone else either seeing pictures, videos or reading about it on a text, it can create a sexual wound in the partner. The symptoms for this are: feeling non-sexual, wanting to avoid sexual feelings. Or feeling more sexual than usual. Feeling physical pain. Feeling intense anger and sadness. Feeling disgusting, ugly, undesirable. 

5-    Questioning who their unfaithful partner is. It can be unsettling to have fundamental questions and doubts such as: ‘who did I marry?’ ‘I never knew he would be capable of this’. ‘Was our relationship a lie? A charade?’

There are many symptoms of relational trauma on the partner:

1-    Questioning self: 'why did he do that?' 'Am I not enough?' 'What's wrong with me?' ‘How did I not see this coming?’ etc... The partner’ self-esteem and self-confidence is shattered. The intensity will depend on the nature of the infidelity. Partners will react differently if the infidelity was a love affair or an anonymous sexual encounter. 

2-    Intense anger is common. Wanting to hurt the unfaithful partner. Wanting to shout at everybody. Wanting to harm yourself.

3-    Intense low mood. Crying uncontrollably. Low energy. Wanting to stay in bed all day. Feeling helpless. Feeling hopeless. Feeling like the future that you had in mind for your relationship has been destroyed.

4-    Becoming a detective: Trying to watch every move of the unfaithful partner. Trying to read texts on their phones or ipads when they’re not in the room, scanning their facial expression ‘who is she thinking about now?’. Trying to install spying softwares on computers to monitor usage. Etc… This type of behaviour feels like it is helping regain control of the bad situation, but it only serves to make the betrayed partner exhausted.  

5-    Sleeping problems. Often, the betrayed partner will lose sleep, wake up in the middle of the night, have nightmares.

6-    Eating problems. Partners can lose appetite to the point of serious malnutrition. Or they can do the opposite: comfort eat more than usual to the point of putting on a lot of weight.

7-    Sexual problems. This is very common. Partners may either want to avoid any types of sex or sexual feelings because of the sexual wounding effect of the relational trauma. Some may experience pain with intercourse or experience sexual dysfunctions such as erectile dysfunction. Some partners may experience the opposite: feeling more sexual than usual. Wanting to have sex with their unfaithful partner much more than usual, in an attempt to reclaim their sexuality or to try to persuade them not to have sex with others.

8-    Acute anxiety. Some people experience serious anxiety such as panic attacks. For some, the anxiety is not so obvious, but can be just as serious. It can be a generalized anxiety about not feeling safe in their relationship and in their home. ‘Did he have sex with someone in our home?’ ‘What am I going to come home to today?’ ‘I don’t feel at home anymore’. ‘I don’t feel comfortable anywhere anymore’. ‘Who am I?’. ‘What if she is having sex with someone right now?’. ‘Perhaps I should be there with my spouse all the time to stop him from sleeping with someone else.’ Etc.

9-    Negative cognition. Having negative thoughts about ourselves is a common lasting symptom of trauma. ‘Why did I not see it coming?’. ‘I'm stupid’. ‘Only an idiot would have married this person’. ‘I must have been blind’. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘I must be bad in bed’. Etc.

If you have recently discovered that your partner has been unfaithful, what are the first steps to recovery?

1-    Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The NHS sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street and Dean Street Express based in Soho offers fast and confidential services.

2-    Self-care: speak to a therapist specialized in this area. Speak to a trusted close friend. Eat and sleep properly. Take some time off if necessary or engage in work more if work provides a good sense of self-esteem.

3-    Look after your children. Don't pretend nothing is happening, but don't tell them the full story if they are too young.

4-    Don't become a detective, and don't ask too many questions even if you really want to. Wanting to know everything is a common response because it makes you feel you can regain control. But in fact it does the opposite: it traumatizes you further. Once you know facts, you can't un-know them: sexual acts, what she was wearing, what she looks like, etc... All of these will become triggers for anger, depression and anxiety only. It is not helpful.

5-    Don't make any decisions about your relationship for 3 months. Just look after yourself. Make a decision when there is less intense emotions to be more rational. Think it through, seek advice, including legal advice if you are thinking about a divorce.

Looking ahead:
A lot of couples can recover from an infidelity, and even from multiple infidelities. It can be an opportunity for growth, and to transform the relationship. Couples therapy is necessary for that. Please find an appropriately trained and experienced therapist specialist in this area. You can find a list of therapists on the COSRT website: .

Some couples do not recover from infidelity. A proper plan when both partners can remain respectful is important. Couples therapy is also highly recommended to help the process of separation. Seek legal advice too. Speak to children ahead of time to prepare them properly and reassure them. A specialist therapist can guide you through this.

Infidelity in a committed relationship is distressing and traumatizing. It is important to remember that there is help available from specialist therapists. And it is important to know that recovery and healing from an affair or infidelity is possible, either for yourself as an individual or for the relationship, or both. 

Silva Neves © November 2015

Monday, 14 September 2015

Where is Eros?

No more Sex. Where is Eros?

How to rekindle passion and sexual desire?

It is very common for long term monogamous couples to find themselves in a sexless relationship. It is one of the most common reasons couples seek therapy.

Often, I hear couples say that they love each other. Everything in their lives is good. They talk to each other respectfully. They feel deep love for each other. They laugh together. They are a team raising children. But, they do not have any more sex. After a while, this one problem becomes distressing for both partners in the relationship. They are unable to change this problem, so they come to sex therapy. This phenomenon is seen in both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

Hearing so many couples with this problem, it seems that love and sex don’t live in the same world. It seems that deep connection and love does not mean good sex, as noted by Esther Perel, author of ‘Mating In Captivity’.

The Greek mythology did not separate love and sex. Eros is the Greek God of love and sexual desire. Aphrodite is the Greek Goddess of love, sexuality and beauty.
The Roman mythology does not separate love and sex either, Venus being the Roman equivalent to Aphrodite and Cupid being the equivalent to Eros.
I wonder why there is such a separation between love and sex in our modern couples.

Today’s couples live in isolation, in the middle of a busy world, where there is little community. Often people live far away from parents, friends and the wider family network. In London, for example, it takes between 30 minutes to one hour to go anywhere. Couples often say: ‘it can be such an effort to meet a friend after a long day’s work’. ‘We have no family nearby to look after the kids.’ Childcare is very expensive, it is sometimes the equivalent of one partner’s salary.

Esther Perel makes the brilliant observation that, in today’s world, we turn to our partner, one human being, to meet all the needs that an entire community used to meet. Perhaps in Greek and Roman times love and sex could thrive side by side because couples were supported by a wider community network? 

In our modern world, a committed relationship has to be in between two different kingdoms. One is called ‘Sex’ and the other is called 'Love’. When two people start a relationship, they both live on the bridge between the two kingdoms of Love and Sex. Love makes the heart beat faster so we can bond. And Sex provides the fire and the energy. Sex is abundant. The essential ingredient of the kingdom of Sex is danger: 'I don't know my lover so well. Has he got a dark secret?' 'Will she leave me?' Getting to know someone new is dangerous because there is always the threat of rejection, and the exciting newness of the exploration of the new partner's sexual landscape. In that space, Sex is alive and well.

If Love and Sex do their jobs well, the relationship becomes safer, and then the two people in the relationship make the commitment to be together. We make a commitment in the attempt to seek more safety. Safety is the essential ingredient of the kingdom of Love. We seek safety because it is one of our primary drive for survival. The safer we are, the better we feel. A committed relationship that feels safe is the baseline for a loving, stable relationship. It would be intolerable to live in uncertainty all the time. You want to know that your partner you have committed to is going to be home in the evenings. You want to know that your partner will give you a hug when you're feeling fragile. Knowing these things makes Love stronger.

When we commit to our partner, we are invited to fully step into the world of Love. This is where we make plans for the future. 'Let's get a mortgage together', 'will you marry me?', 'do you want a cat or a dog?', 'let's try for a child'. As soon as we fully embrace Love, the kingdom of Sex becomes bored because it has no more visitors, and eventually goes into a long hibernation, drawing the blinds down.

This is when Sex starts its slow death.

After some time of not engaging with the kingdom of Sex, couples find themselves in a sexless relationship because the couple is no longer a space in which two lovers meet. It becomes family. It becomes cute. It becomes caring. It becomes polite.

What do couples typically do in the family, cute space? They eat. They put on weight. They spend hours on electronic devices playing Candy Crush. They watch television until they fall asleep.  They stop looking after themselves. How many times have you seen the same old socks? More and more, safety is established: 'we're so good together that we can be comfortable seeing each other in our slippers'. And pretty soon you can't even remember what it feels like to be touched in a sexual way. There may be plenty of touching, like a loving, warm hug. But it is very different from being touched with the sexual energy of desire and passion that lives in the long forgotten world of Sex. You can even forget what it's like to be naked with your partner, or to have an orgasm. Your partner's pyjamas has replaced your lover's flesh.

It doesn't take long after you have establish safety that you might event start to feel embarrassed to have a sexual language. Because sexual language belongs to the erotic world of Sex, which is being starved. Words like 'fuck me'. 'Touch me'. 'Suck me' are not welcome in the kingdom of Love because there is too much at stake: ‘what will she think of me?’ ‘He’s going to think I’m a slut’. In the Kingdom of Love, we want to maintain safety so we will not go to places where there is a danger of rejection. Instead, in Love, we use words like: 'I love you', 'I miss you' and if there is a little bit of sexual desire, we use words like: 'would you like to make love tonight dear?' Or worse: 'would you like a cup of tea and a biscuit?'

What to do about your loving relationship that has become sexless?

You rock the Love boat. You upset the Kingdom of Love. It seems completely counter-intuitive, crazy even. ‘Why would you want to rock the boat of a wonderful, loving relationship? It is only sex that doesn't work out after all. Everything else is fine! Sex isn't everything!’ I hear you scream.

Of course sex isn't everything. But sex is a big part of a sexual and romantic relationship. It is what sets it apart from the relationship with your friends, siblings, colleagues. In a sexless relationship, you start to form the habit of sleeping in the bed with your partner and between you two there is a huge rift, a big gap where the big elephant sleeps. The one that nobody talks about. The more it is ignored, the bigger the elephant gets in the bed between you, and eventually, one partner gets kicked out of bed. And when that happens, you feel unloved, undesired, taken for granted. 'He hasn't even noticed that I've been to the hairdresser'. 'I could just be anybody, it wouldn't make a difference to her'. 'I can't remember the last time when she asked me how my day was'. 'I love him but I cringe when he tries to touch me'. A sexless relationship can end up becoming an unhappy relationship. Slowly, long after Sex died, Love starts to get old and tired.

Rocking the Love boat is important. It means there is a little injection of danger, threats, energy, all those ingredients needed to awaken the Kingdom of Sex. It will open its blinds again and send an invitation to the couple again. And if the couple is courageous enough to step out of their safety and accept the invitation, a newfound eroticism can be discovered by a couple who have long been asleep on either side of the big elephant.

How to rock the Love boat and rekindle a sexual life that spells Eros, the God of love and sexual desire?

Here is my guide of 14 un-easy steps, but courageous steps.

1-    Go for a medical check up: making sure there is no medical problems at play here: low testosterone levels, hormonal issues, diabetes, etc…

2-    Start with the initial change: make time. I see so many couples that say: ‘we don’t have time. We get home from work at 7pm. By the time we feed the kids, wash the dishes, prepare them for bed, prepare ourselves for work the next day, it is 10.30pm and we are exhausted’. Sex is not going to happen if there is no space for it. It is easy for life to take over. And of course, whether you have children or not, life is always busy. If you have children, I would like to ask you: ‘do you want to have your children growing in a home where the parents have sexual apathy? Make no mistakes, children pick up things a lot, even more than adults. They pick up energy. There is a particular non-congruent energy that develops when parents are not physically connected. Often this develops into the grown up children having sexual difficulties. If you do not have children, it is easier to make time, and yet so difficult to do for some couples. I would ask the question: ‘what is the most important for you? Having a better connected relationship with your partner and more sex or spending hours on Facebook? Would you rather always say ‘yes’ to your boss when they keep asking you to do overtime, and always saying ‘no’ to your partner? Do you want your relationship to be ships passing in the night, and eventually sharing your bed with someone you barely know?’ These are important questions about your willingness to make time for your couple. It needs to become Priority One, and I would argue, it is the same Priority that looking after your children, because your children live in the relational space that you co-create with your spouse.

3-    Now that making time has become your Priority One. The next stage is to make further changes. Look at your bedroom. It has been a place with the big elephant in the room. Often, the bedroom becomes a place of work, doing work e-mails on the ipad. Or a place for friends, checking Facebook on your phone in bed. Or a resting place for the dog who sleeps in between you. Or a place of exhaustion, when you collapse in bed with a quick ‘good night’ and fall asleep straight away. And, indeed, it also becomes a place for disappointment. All of these are hardly sexy. On the day that you have decided to rekindle your sex life, make changes to the environment first. Throw out of the bedroom all of the association of un-sexy-ness (starve the elephant). Buy new bedsheets. Buy a new rug. Buy scented candles and essential oils. Change the framed pictures. Buy new underwears. Throw away the old pyjamas.

4-    Very importantly, ban technology in the bedroom. It is not a place for work e-mails, Facebook or Candy Crush. Leave the technology in the living room. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock, rather than having your smart phone next to you. When you enter the bedroom, it has to be a sanctuary for your couple. It has to feel safe and sexy. Keep the space private from your children. Teach your children that they can be invited to your bedroom but not always granted access, just the same as their bedroom is their private space.

5-    Develop a sexual language. One of the biggest blocks for couples is that it is hard to talk about sex. There is so much fear in it. Fear of rejection. Fear of your partner’s judgment. Even fear of being perceived to have sexual interests. Fear of non-rejection: ‘what if my partner wants to have sex with me? I can’t remember how to start!’ Developing a sexual language will help with getting the elephant out of the room. You can start with small steps. Start to become curious about your partner. ‘How do you like to be hugged?’ ‘Is there a part of your body that you don’t like touched?’ ‘Is there a part of your body that you really enjoyed being touched?’

6-    As you develop a sexual language, you can then go further in the dialogue of sexual exploration. ‘What turns you on?’ ‘Tell me about one of your fantasies?’

7-    You may also want to experiment with more risky language, less polite, more sexy. But it has to be a language that you both agree on, because you have to be both comfortable with it. What would it feel like if you said ‘cock’ or ‘fuck’ instead of ‘shall we have you-know-what tonight?  Be mindful that this process can make some shame surface. It if does, stop it, and find another sexy language, but one that is adult and not childish (sex vs rumpy-bumpy).  

8-    Fun. Laughing. Sex is supposed to be fun. Once you have successfully made the first few changes, you will feel more relaxed around sex and sexual conversations. Bring back the fun in the bedroom. Sometimes sex can be a long, loving, connected act. Sometimes it can be a quickie. Sometimes it can be a relaxed, fun playfulness between two adults. Sex doesn’t have to lead to penetration or orgasms every time. Sex should not be a task.

9-    Bring back seduction. Compliment your spouse when she is wearing a dress that really suits her. Ask your boyfriend to keep his sports gear on a little bit longer because he looks sexy in it. Take your spouse for a spontaneous drink in the pub on a week night. Tell your wife you have masturbated thinking about her. Go to a sex shop together. Woo your partner with red roses.

10-  Reduce performance anxiety by not expecting the greatest sex of your life. Go with the flow, take your time to touch your partner’s body and learn its landscape. One step at a time.

11- For the new parents, it is especially challenging to rekindle a sexual life when caring for a baby. On this issue, I would like to quote Esther Perel who eloquently explains the dilemma and the solution: ‘Children are indeed a source of nurturance for adults. Their unconditional love and utter devotion infuse our lives with heightened sense of meaning. The problem arises when we turn to them for what we no longer get from each other: a sense that we’re special, that we matter, that we’re not alone. When we transfer these adult emotional needs onto our children, we are placing too big a burden on them. In order to feel safe, kids need to know that there are limits to their power, and to what is surreptitiously asked of them. They need us to have our own loving relationships, in whatever form they take. When we are emotionally and sexually satisfied, we allow our children to experience their own independence with freedom and support.’

12- For more insight on how to rekindle sex and desire in your relationship, I recommend Esther Perel’s book: Mating In Captivity.

13- Do things separately too. Meet your friends on your own. Take pleasure in being noticed by others to activate your sense of self.

14- Find a suitably qualified and experienced sex therapist. There is a list of therapists on the COSRT website (College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists). 

Many couples, both heterosexual and same-sex couples, come to see me because their marriage or long-term relationship is faced with a dying sex life. When they come, they are often in a stuck place or dead end. There is no energy in it. Often they’re losing hope. They feel bad about themselves because there is a real sense of loss. Not only loss of a sexual life, but also loss of energy, loss of youth, loss of fun, loss of feeling sexually attractive, desirable and sexy. By the end of therapy, I have been the privileged witness to see many couples with a renewed energy, there is fun, love and sexual tension in the space in between them. There is creativity. There is a horizon full of possibilities. Most importantly, there are two separate individuals who can dance back and forth between the Kingdoms and Love and Sex and find Eros again.

Silva Neves © September 2015. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Gay Candy Shop

The Gay Candy Shop

Over the last few years, 'social' apps where people find other people for dating and casual sexual partners have boomed. We call them hook-up apps.

In the gay community, hook-up apps such as Grindr, Recon and Scruff have become common tools to find casual sexual partners. It has gone far beyond the more traditional dating websites such as Gaydar, because with apps like Grindr, you can find a sexual partner right now who is located a few feet away from you. No need to plan a meet as was the usual practice with Gaydar. With hook-up apps, it is all very fast and instant.

Social and  hook-up apps can be useful and important for people who live in rural areas, where finding same-sex sexual partners or dates can be more challenging. In urban areas, it can be useful to celebrate gay sexual freedom which was banned and pathologised as a mental illness for far too long. It is also a useful way to find sexual partners that are into the same sexual practice as you are. Recon, for example, specialises in Kink.

There is also a dark side to hook-up apps. Like most things, you can make them useful but you can also misuse them. When misused, it can create some significant problems.

Here are some of the problems I often hear about in my consulting room:

1- Hook-up apps increase objectification. What is objectification? It is a process by which one de-humanises a person by only seeing a body part of that person and turn it into a sexual object for one's sexual arousal. This is an increasing problem, because frequent objectification leads people to stop being empathic. It is easy to become dismissive of people about small things such as hair style. This, in turn creates a bigger problem: the inability to relate to others. By treating sexual partners like fast food for instant gratification and discarding them after the sexual act by not talking to them or by blocking their profile, this means that you are training your brain to become intolerant of the normal ingredients of human interactions such as personality, character traits, flaws and simple communication.

2- The tyranny of body perfection. Looking at an endless series of perfectly shaped headless torsos reinforces the concept that you are only desirable if you have the perfect body. If you do not, you can feel undesirable, sometimes to the point of self-hatred and depression. The gay male scene already focuses heavily on bodily perfection. It contributes to the exclusivity of the gay scene making many gay people, young and old, feel not worthy of belonging. 

3- Hook-up apps can be dangerous. If you hook-up with a stranger on Grindr, you are less likely to meet them in a bar, and more likely to arrange a casual sexual meet at their house. Also you are less likely to tell a friend where you are going. Anyone can sign up to hook-up apps including violent homophobes who want to target gay people to hurt them. This is, of course, very rare, but think about this: you are actually walking into a strangers' house at night, without telling anyone where you are going.

4- Lack of privacy. Engaging in hook-up apps in private is a myth. Each time you send a picture to someone else, that picture does not belong to you anymore. The person receiving that picture can do whatever they want with it: share it, make it public, use it as their own, etc... Often people send naked picture of themselves over apps. If you do, do not include your face. A naked picture showing your face can land on your boss' desk!

5- Obsessed with apps. Hook-up apps can result in a compulsive behaviour very quickly. Hook-up apps give you the illusion that at any second there will be someone new popping up just a few feet away from you, wanting you. A series of six-pack torsos is exciting and, over time, numbs your mind and feelings, which means that you can lose hours looking at a constant stream of profile pictures. Some people report being really surprised at spending a whole night on hook-up apps, just looking at profiles, waiting for the one exciting hook-up that never comes. Some people think: last night wasn't the night, but perhaps tonight.... And then it might be Saturday night when Ill be in Soho. Surely, there, that night, I will see the hottest guy on the planet who is going to want me. And again. And again. And again. Some people report such a compulsion that they can't get away from hook-up apps, literally hooked to the fantasy- or false promise- that something amazing is going to happen with a beautiful dark stranger. Even when out with friends, some people report being so preoccupied by what they might be missing on hook-up apps that they find it difficult to connect with those friends. It can take over people's lives.

6- Hook-up apps, alcohol and parties is a risky threesome. When you are drunk at the end of the Saturday night, you can easily download a hook-up app that promises several 'fuck parties' or 'chill-out parties' meaning drug-fuelled parties. You are then more likely to make the wrong decisions because of your altered state of mind and end up at a stranger's house with many other drunk and drugged naked gay men, even when you don't want to be there. You are then more likely to have unprotected sex and contract HIV. Hook-up apps make the access to those private sex parties so easy!

7- Why is all the above bad? What is wrong with having lots of anonymous sex with hot guys?
Having anonymous sex with hot guys is an individual choice. I am not here to judge people's promiscuity. However, it is important to engage in these behaviours with informed choices, and be aware of what you are doing: your desires, your needs and the consequences that it has in your life.

Many of my clients come to me reporting the following problems:
'I lost myself. And I keep losing myself every weekend'

'I can't stop hooking-up with strangers nearby. It's so empty and meaningless. At the time, it is such a thrill. But as soon as I cum, I feel empty as ashamed. In fact, it makes me hate myself.'

'It seems that I can't get passed the first date. After one evening with a guy, they either lose interest pretty quickly, or I do. It's so hard to find a partner who is willing to have a second date.' 

'I feel depressed because I spent the whole night on Grindr again. I never got off. I just look at all those profile pics. Before I knew it, it was 4am! I'm so exhausted. I can't concentrate at work.'

'I feel so ashamed because, once again, on Saturday night, after a few drinks, I got Grindr out, had a quickie with some bloke. Then had a line of coke. More drinks. Hooked up with another guy, he wasn't attractive. Then got more drunk. Got Grindr out again. Ended up in a sex party in someone's flat. Took more drugs, don't know what I took. And had sex until Sunday mid-day. I don't think I used a condom all the time. I can't be sure. I'm going to have to go to Dean Street Express to get checked out, again!'

'I go to the gym six times a week, got a personal trainer who pushes me, too. But I'm just not getting a good enough body, like all those guys on Grindr. Who would want someone looking like me?'

'I bought some pills online for muscle development. I hate my body.'

'I put on my profile that I'm bottom because I'm so scared not to get it up when I meet a guy off Grindr. There is no time to get to know the guy, or foreplay. There's an expectation to be hard and ready. There's less pressure being a bottom. I can't remember last time I topped. I do enjoy topping though, but I've given up on it. Too much hassle'

'I keep having sexual problems because of the high expectations of the sex meet. People come with the expectation that it has to be the best hook-up of their lives. Now, I'm always anxious when I think about sex.'

'I've stopped eating breakfast and dinner so that I can get into those skinny jeans. I only have a salad for lunch. I don't care. I need to be skinny because I'm a twink'

Shame, low self-esteem, self-hatred, guilt, anxiety, depression, sexual problems, body dismorphia and eating disorders are common problems amongst gay men.

So, hooking up on Grindr and other similar apps, and having anonymous sex is not the problem. This is not about judging sexual practice. The problem is the consequences of those behaviours. If you feel happy and relaxed and able to manage the rest of your life whilst being on Grindr and having casual sex, no problem! Fantastic!
But if you feel bad, shameful, depressed, exhausted after it and ultimately unable to maintain a relationship that lasts more than one night even when you want to, then there is a big problem. 
Most of my gay male clients report problems similar to these. By losing themselves, they lose their self-esteem, their confidence, and above all, their integrity. They report feeling empty and soulless, and this is a very bad place in which to find yourself.

Just as there is a health warning message for alcohol which states 'drink responsibly', I think there should be a message on hook-up apps that should say 'Use it moderately, and make time for face-to-face friendship'.

Silva Neves © August 2015

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The 50 Flavours of Vanilla Sex

The 50 Flavours of Vanilla Sex

As a psychosexual and relationship therapist, I talk about sex with my clients a lot.

What I observe often is that, although there is so much information about sex available, people are still quite confused about it, what it means to them, and how to make it work for them.
It seems that sex, like most things, goes with what is fashionable and mainstream at the time.

In our current time, the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon highlighted sexual practice termed as ‘kinky’ or ‘BDSM’ (Bondage, Discipline, Sadomasochism, Masochism). The novel became a worldwide success, and a film followed. Of course, this is good for people who practice kinky sex as an integral part of the expression of their sexuality, because it became normalised. When something is normalised, there is less prejudice attached to it.

Kinky sex is now in the mainstream and ‘fashionable’. What seems to happen is that other types of sex becomes less fashionable.
What I often hear, when my clients talk about the type of sex they have, some say:
‘I only do vanilla sex’
‘Nothing much, just vanilla’
Sometimes, clients will even put a judgement on it straight away:
‘Oh, I’m boring, I only do vanilla’

So, this makes me wonder, what happened to Vanilla Sex? Is it now being seen as boring, limiting, old-fashioned, undesirable?

What is Vanilla Sex?
It is exactly what you want it to be!

Vanilla Sex doesn’t mean that you have to be doing the same missionary position with the lights off for the rest of your life.

Vanilla is actually an exotic spice. It has been known in the past as ‘The Nectar of the Gods’, and some people believe that it is an aphrodisiac! Vanilla Sex can live up to this reputation. Vanilla Sex can be varied, sexy and hot.

Vanilla Sex means creativity and diversity.
One day, you can have sex fully naked with your partner in the bedroom, with romantic scented candles, looking into each other’s eyes, feeling intimate. Some people call this sexual practice ‘making love’.

And another day, you can have a ‘quickie’ on the kitchen table with most of your clothes on.

You can choose to have sex with sexy lingeries. Or you can have sex just wearing stilettoes, or trainers.

You can choose to wear sports gear to spice up your sex life in a true Vanilla sense. Or you may want to have a role play once in a while, such as boss/secretary, etc.

You can talk dirty whilst having sex. You can incorporate erotica, or fantasies whilst having sex.

Sometimes, you might also want to do oral sex to the point of orgasm without penetration.

You may also choose to do the same position over and over again if it really works for you and your partner. Why not?

There are countless ways of having Vanilla Sex, so many ways, in fact, to last a lifetime.

If you’re into Vanilla Sex, feel proud of it, hold your head high and say: ‘I do Vanilla Sex and it’s hot!’

© Silva Neves – July 2015

Sunday, 7 June 2015

I love you so don't tell

I love you so don’t tell

Child sexual abuse has been reported and discussed in the news recently. So far, the debate has centred on public figures who have sexually abused children and organisations which have enabled such abuse to take place.

This is, of course, a very important debate, which brings forth the horror of childhood sexual abuse. But it is also important to remember that child sexual abuse does not only happen in such a way. Most child sexual abuse happens behind closed doors, within the family.

A study conducted by the NSPCC revealed that 70% of sexual offences against children were perpetrated by abusers known or related to the victim. 93% of victims under the age of 18 know their attacker.

Child sexual abuse involves the abuse of power, the exploitation of the vulnerability of the child and the sexual arousal of the adult. The majority of child sexual abuse goes unreported with no prosecution. International research studies indicate that between 60% and 90% of child sexual abuse never comes to the attention of the police.

A recent UK study published by the NSPCC showed that 1 in 9 young adults between the age of 18 and 24 had experienced ‘contact sexual abuse’ during their childhood. In another NSPCC study published in 2000, 72% of sexually abused children did not tell anyone at the time and 27% told someone later. 31% still had not told anyone about the abuse by the time they reached adulthood. Because most child sexual abuse goes undetected, these statistics are potentially largely underestimated.  

Although discourse around sexual abuse has become more prevalent in the media, disclosing sexual abuse perpetrated by a relative who was supposed to love and care for you remains very challenging. In my opinion, child sexual abuse will continue to go unreported and undetected because of its traumatic nature.

The clients I see do not come to me saying: ‘I have been sexually abused as a child’. They come to me for sexual problems or perhaps because they find it impossible to connect and be intimate with a partner, or perhaps because they have an aversion to sex, etc. Sometimes a history of childhood sexual abuse emerge as my clients talk about their problems.

The impact of child sexual abuse in adult survivors are:
1- Low self-esteem or self-hatred

2- Depression

3- Guilt, shame and blame. Survivors often feel guilty because they think they attracted the abuser, or they made no attempts to stop it. They can also feel a lot of shame because they experienced physical pleasure when erogenous zones were touched.
Sleep disturbance. The trauma of sexual abuse may create a lot of anxiety, which disturbs sleep. The bedroom may also be a traumatic place if the abuse occurred in the child's own bed.

4- Lack of trust for anyone. Many survivors were betrayed by the very people that were supposed to love and care for them (family, teachers, etc.) who insisted they loved them even whilst abusing them. It is not surprising that learning to trust someone as an adult can be extremely difficult.

5- Re-victimisation. Many survivors find themselves in abusive relationships or dangerous situations.

6- Flashbacks. Many survivors re-experience the sexual abuse as if it were occurring in the present moment. This is usually accompanied by images of the abuse. These flashbacks are often triggered by an event, every day actions such as the touch of a hand, or smells that remind the survivor of the sexual abuse.

7- Dissociation. This is a process where the mind detaches itself from the experience because it is too much to process at the time. This loss of connection to thoughts and feelings is a coping mechanism, but it can affect the survivors' life by repressing feelings.

8- Sexuality and intimacy problems. Many survivors have to deal with the trauma that their first sexual experience was an abuse. Survivors can have sexual dysfunctions such as vaginismus (impossible to have penetrative sex), erectile dysfunction, sexual shame. Gay men who have been abused by men in childhood may also experience a lot of shame about their sexual orientation. Heterosexual men that have been abused by men may feel that their masculinity has been compromised. Survivors also experience difficulties being intimate with their partners as adults.

Adult survivors of sexual abuse use coping mechanisms to attempt to soothe their trauma. Some of the coping mechanisms are:
1- Grieving for a childhood that they never had: innocence, nurture, warmth, safety, positive relationships with family members. During their grieving they may experience deep sadness, jealousy and intense anger. These feelings may go inwards (self-hatred and depression) or outwards (blaming their partners, projecting anger onto others, pushing people away in order to avoid intimacy).
2- Alcohol and drugs. Substances can act as an escape from intense feelings, especially when experiencing terror and helplessness.
3- Eating disorder. A compulsive control of food intake can be a way to take back control over their body,  the control that was denied in the abuse.
4- Self-harm. Burning or cutting the skin are some ways for a survivor to relieve intense anxiety triggered by memories of the abuse. 

As a psychosexual and relationship therapist, I often work with the trauma of sexual abuse, and I have seen change and healing happen before my eyes.
It is important not to stay silent. It is important to heal. Healing is possible. When it happens, it is the most precious gift that you can give to yourself and an act of love to your body. 

Originally published by Silva Neves in August 2014

Being Hyper Sexual

Being Hyper Sexual

Public awareness of sex addiction is on the increase. Sex addiction is a condition that has not been diagnosed nor treated until recently. Diagnosis and treatment started only in the 80’s with the ground-breaking research of Dr Patrick Carnes. The film Shame (2011) brought sex addiction to the awareness of the public, and more recently Thanks for Sharing (2012) and Nymphomaniac (2013).

Sex addiction is still a misunderstood condition. Clinicians are confused about sex addiction, as is the general public. I have seen many people suffering from it and heard their pain and their despair. For me, there is no doubt that sex addiction is a real and profound problem. Many people feel that their sexual behaviours cause problems but it is hard to know how to think about it and where to go for help. I hope this blog will answer some of those questions.

What is sex addiction?
Because sex addiction is only new in the public consciousness, the subject is surrounded by myths. First, let’s look at what sex addiction is NOT.
It is not about sex.
It is not fun.
It is not having a high sex drive.
It is not having lots of sex.

Sex addiction is:
1- Using sex as a primary way of coping with the unpleasant feelings of life: feeling sad, feeling angry, feeling tired, feeling bored, etc…
2- A sexual behaviour that is compulsive and repetitive. Someone with sex addiction cannot stop their sexual behaviours even though they might want to. They feel they have no control over it.
3- It makes the person feel bad. Sex addicts report that after the compulsive sexual behaviour, they feel depressed or worthless.
4- Engaging in sexual behaviour that is against an individual’s own moral values. For example, having sex outside of the marriage, even though they love their spouse.

What are the typical behaviours of a sex addict?
1- Compulsive use of porn (with or without masturbation)
2- Compulsive anonymous hook-ups (meeting online)
3- Attending strip clubs frequently
4- Visiting prostitutes and ‘sensual’ massage parlours frequently
5- Compulsively cruising places known for hook-ups’
6- Constant objectification of others
7- Using seduction techniques frequently
8- Pushing boundaries: viewing ‘no’ as a challenge
9- Multiple affairs or anonymous infidelity
10- Compulsive sexting, abusing social media networks, virtual sex (webcam, etc…)
11- Crossing professional boundaries
12- Compartmentalization: living a double life.

If sex addiction is not about sex, what is it about?
Sex addiction is about trauma. It serves the purpose to soothe deep emotional wounds left from a trauma or a series of traumas which occurred in childhood, usually.
The research of Dr Patrick Carnes reveals that:

    - 87% of sex addicts describe their familial upbringing as ‘disengaged’.
    - 97% of sex addicts report an early childhood trauma (usually childhood abuse).
    - 42% of sex addicts have a cross-addiction problem with chemical dependency.
    - 38% of sex addicts also have an eating disorder.

Because sex addiction is a trauma response, it is prevalent in all socio-economic classes, religious communities and sexual orientations. In fact, untreated sex addiction escalates. It is not uncommon for men identifying as heterosexuals to have sex with men at the height of their sex addiction. It is not a sexuality identity problem, it is the escalation of the addiction crossing gender boundaries.

You will find a listing of sex addiction specialists on the website ATSAC (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity):

Sex addiction is a serious condition which can cause tremendous pain for both the addict and the partner. It can escalate to levels that can be extremely harmful and can even kill. Sex addicts and their partners can feel extremely hurt and hopeless. But there is hope for both the addict and the partner, because there is specialist help available all over the UK and internationally.

Originally published by Silva Neves in July 2014. Also published in the Autumn 2014 edition of Fidelity, the journal for The National Council of Psychotherapists.